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Maple Leafs Pregame #26: 5 things to watch for against the Wings

It feels like forever since the Leafs played, and I think we all need this game. Not only would it be nice to see the good times with Coach Keefe continue, but it would also be nice to watch and enjoy the sport and remember why we put up with toxicity that plagues it.

The Wings are bad, and that should help the Leafs good times continue, and the last game against the Wings certainly speaks to optimism for the Leafs as well, but the luxury of taking any game lightly is long gone, and sitting 4 points out of a Wild Card spot with the entire conference having games at hand over the Leafs, it’s best they #get2work.

Lineup

LW C RW Forwards
Andreas Johnsson
ANDREAS JOHNSSON

Rating: 73.0#60 LW

Auston Matthews
AUSTON MATTHEWS

Rating: 81.0#7 C

William Nylander
WILLIAM NYLANDER

Rating: 74.7#32 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 76.22#13 FL1
Ilya Mikheyev
ILYA MIKHEYEV

Rating: 74.7#35 LW

John Tavares
JOHN TAVARES

Rating: 78.8#15 C

Zach Hyman
ZACH HYMAN

Rating: 73.5#75 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 75.65#4 FL2
Nic Petan
NIC PETAN

Rating: 72.0#111 LW

Jason Spezza
JASON SPEZZA

Rating: 71.4#130 C

Kasperi Kapanen
KASPERI KAPANEN

Rating: 73.2#58 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 72.16#12 FL3
Pierre Engvall
PIERRE ENGVALL

Rating: 73.7#49 LW

Frederik Gauthier
FREDERIK GAUTHIER

Rating: 69.2#178 C

Dmytro Timashov
DMYTRO TIMASHOV

Rating: 72.4#70 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 71.78#10 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Morgan Rielly
MORGAN RIELLY

Rating: 76.2#11 LD

Cody Ceci
CODY CECI

Rating: 71.8#85 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 73.97#22 DL1
Jake Muzzin
JAKE MUZZIN

Rating: 75.3#19 LD

Justin Holl
JUSTIN HOLL

Rating: 73.3#45 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 74.30#13 DL2
Travis Dermott
TRAVIS DERMOTT

Rating: 72.9#63 LD

Tyson Barrie
TYSON BARRIE

Rating: 76.2#13 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 74.55#2 DL3
LW C RW Forwards
Tyler Bertuzzi
TYLER BERTUZZI

Rating: 75.9#26 LW

Dylan Larkin
DYLAN LARKIN

Rating: 77.4#22 C

Robby Fabbri
ROBBY FABBRI

Rating: 71.3#85 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 74.87#23 FL1
Darren Helm
DARREN HELM

Rating: 70.0#161 LW

Valtteri Filppula
VALTTERI FILPPULA

Rating: 71.3#131 C

Filip Zadina
FILIP ZADINA

Rating: 72.8#70 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 71.38#30 FL2
Luke Glendening
LUKE GLENDENING

Rating: 70.0#137 LW

Frans Nielsen
FRANS NIELSEN

Rating: 69.8#165 C

Andreas Athanasiou
ANDREAS ATHANASIOU

Rating: 75.1#24 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 71.64#18 FL3
Taro Hirose
TARO HIROSE

Rating: 72.1#89 LW

Christoffer Ehn
CHRISTOFFER EHN

Rating: 67.7#184 C

Brendan Perlini
BRENDAN PERLINI

Rating: 70.4#128 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 70.04#29 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Patrik Nemeth
PATRIK NEMETH

Rating: 71.8#88 LD

Filip Hronek
FILIP HRONEK

Rating: 73.1#50 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 72.50#29 DL1
Dennis Cholowski
DENNIS CHOLOWSKI

Rating: 71.0#18 LD

Mike Green
MIKE GREEN

Rating: 72.6#61 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 71.83#30 DL2
Jonathan Ericsson
JONATHAN ERICSSON

Rating: 68.8#120 LD

Madison Bowey
MADISON BOWEY

Rating: 70.1#102 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 69.48#31 DL3

The best compliment I can pay the Red Wings lineup is that it is interesting. There is a good collection of swing for the fences, last chance to be an impact players on it in Fabbri, Bowey, Perlini, and Athanasiou. Unfortunately for them they are still heavily tied down to Ken Holland’s poor decisions to retain Ericsson, Helm, Abdelkader, Helm, Glendening, and of course that Nielsen contract.

Here are 5 things to watch for:

1. The Nic Petan Promotion

I’ll admit to being a little surprised by this one, as I thought Engvall has shown enough in his three games to look like the better option for the third line, but when I rattled it around in my head a bit more, I think I’ve come to agree with the decision made by putting Petan up with Spezza and Kapanen.

The Leafs need to see if they can find a fit for Petan and with the return of Marner a decision will need to be made on him once again. He’s proven to be dominated at the AHL level, but really can’t find his place in the NHL. Spezza and Kapanen are probably the last combination of players that haven’t been tried, aside from putting him with Matthews and Nylander. If this doesn’t click, we probably shouldn’t feel too bad about moving on from Petan.

As for Engvall, it’s probably best that he settles into a level of familiarity with the 4th line group, because if he keeps on holding his own, he might not be the player sent back to the Marlies when Marner and Moore return.

2. The Tavares Line

If there is one thing I’ve learned from watching the Islanders over the past decade, it’s that there really doesn’t seem to be much point to giving Tavares your best wingers. You’re better off giving him good wingers, and letting him make them great.

That’s why I’m all for the Hyman-Tavares-Mikheyev line, which gives Tavares competent players that he is only going to make better. It’s hard to imagine that there won’t be a reunion with Mitch Marner at some point, but I have to say, I am curious about what would happen if the Leafs attempted to role what would be pretty close to 3 first lines by strapping Marner in alongside Kerfoot when they return.

As for now, let’s just hope that Hyman-Tavares-Mikheyev line can get someone going besides Hyman, as Tavares isn’t up to his usual point per game pace yet, and Mikheyev has slowed down as the season has moved on as well.

3. Rielly-Ceci not working well under Keefe

If there are two players that can be pointed to as being better under Babcock than Keefe, it’s the Leafs “top” pairing of Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci.

For arguments sake, we’ll say that Morgan Rielly is talented and can be salvaged, and might be struggling because he has a boat anchor attached to him.

Ceci’s numbers under Keefe are:

Game # Opponent CF CA CF% CF Rel xGF xGA xGF% xGF Rel ES TOI
24 Arizona 14 20 41.18 (27.06) 0.41 0.86 32.27 (37.94) 18:40
25 Colorado 12 21 36.36 (15.75) 0.19 0.76 19.7 (45.73) 19:40

Additionally, his xGF% has dropped to a sub 50% level, and he’s 10 games removed from having a positive goal differential, although he’s gone the past three games without being on the ice for a goal against.

Considering that Dubas has recently praised Ceci’s numbers (they’ve been on a steady decline since that comment) it’s hard to imagine that Rielly and Ceci won’t continue as the top pairing, but in these times of change, something seems like it will have to give eventually.

4. Andreas Johnsson penalty killer

As someone who firmly believes in having offensive talents contribute to the penalty kill, this is one of my favourite developments under Keefe. This is still a relatively new thing for the Leafs, although it was a regular thing on the Marlies, so I hope we’ll get some favourable results and see more of it. You don’t need to be penalized twice by being down one player, but then again by choosing to take your skilled players off the ice for two minutes.

5. This may be the last day you can tweet this…

The game starts at 7PM ET and can be seen on Sportsnet and Sportsnet One.